Walking backwards a stop is probably a good idea, unless the bus passes you by while you're between the two stops, in which case you've just wasted time walking in the wrong direction.

But most of this analysis is pretty irrelevant to me. I live in Montreal, and for 5-6 months of the year standing still outside for any longer than 10 minutes is just not an option. You walk, man. You walk.


I would guess that the researchers do not live in NYC. In the US, except for Manhattan, the stops are often too far apart for going backwards to be a realistic option. This doesn't mean they shouldn't have considered it for scientific rigor.

I too have often walked to the previous stop, especially at Broadway and 79th Street and Lexington and 67th Street. I've also done this in central London.

The only times walking forward makes sense to me is when you then have the option to take another line. (for example, on Broadway in front of Lincoln Center where you can get the M104, M5, M7 and the subway), or when you can get where you are going if you can beat the bus.

The question I always ask, however, is why people insist on getting on a crowded bus or train when they can SEE that there is another one right behind. The travel time is not much different and they will usually be more comfortable on the next bus or train.



What if you get a lot of pleasure from walking? When I take the train to the city I normally forget to check the schedule and I almost always miss the train by a minute or two, when I check for the next one it isn't for 20 to 30 minutes normally so I walk down to the next stop because it's less than a 20 minute walk away. I feel like I get more pleasure out of walking than I would standing around waiting.


The only advantage that I see in changing bus stops is if there is someone else there to flag down the bus, thus allowing me to read a book or otherwise do anything to forget that I'm waiting for the darn bus.


This is a rather silly math problem. The ONLY TIME you would ordinarily improve your timetable by walking is if you're planning to walk the entire distance. Think about it this way. There are two buses, A and B. A is the bus that has most recently passed your stop, and B is the bus that is arriving next. Assume the buses don't pass each other on their route.

By waiting, you are guaranteed to meet bus B and arrive at your destination with bus B. The only way walking will improve your situation is if you somehow arrive before bus B - that is, walking the entire way and staying ahead of B the whole way, or somehow catching up to bus A and riding that one. And by walking, you run the risk of B passing you.

So, wait for bus B unless you plan to walk to your destination (i.e. - you can walk there in 20 minutes and there's a 20 minute wait for B) or you think you can catch up to the last bus that went by (which probably means traffic is so slow that you're again better off just walking).

How could anybody think that walking to the next stop is going to speed things up unless they plan to walk past the last bus they just missed?


George Tenet Fangirl

If you're the only person at the current stop, and you know there are others at the next stop in either direction, walking can decrease the total travel time for the bus (by reducing the number of stops it makes by one). Granted, you only get a slight benefit, but the positive externality will make you feel all good inside.


I take it that it's assumed in the study you mention that when the bus does come, you board it if you're at the stop. Given this assumption, it's never ideal to walk backwards from a stop.

Relaxing that assumption would be interesting, but it would complicate things a lot -- you'd have to include, as a variable, the line length and the expected seating availability.

axel molotov

Funny that you needed mathematicians to analyze this. I came to the same conclusion applying the theory of relativity. Which leads me to my next conclusion that one amateur (and that's overly complementary of my abilities) physicist can do the work of three mathematicians!


Anyone who's actually _made_ the decision to walk instead of wait knows that there are other factors that matter here. First of all, you nearly always know when a bus is coming before it's right on top of you. The amount of "reaction time" you have needs to be considered as a fraction of the time it takes to walk between stops (this, in turn, is a function of the speed of traffic and the average number of people waiting at a bus stop).

Upon arrival at the first bus stop, the first thing a rational passenger will look at is the size of the group waiting at the stop, expressed as a fraction of the expected group size at mean arrival frequency and ridership volume. Ridership volume is normally distributed, though its mean varies throughout the day. However, arrival frequency is skewed. While the mode of arrival frequency is close to the frequency listed on the posted schedule, bus bunching and service interruptions cause it to have a long tail. Service interruptions are unpredictable, but bus bunching is a function of street traffic and rider volume.

Long story short, don't give this paper to your visiting friends and expect it to help them on their visit to the city!


Rich Wilson

Can someone explain to me why so many people get on the bus and pay $1.25 (and have to spend an inordinate amount of time getting the reader to accept their tired, poor, hungry dollar bill) rather than buy a 10 ride pass for $10?

I see lots of bus regulars paying cash, day after day.


One additional point to consider is that people may have a natural aversion to backtracking. It seems counterintuitive to walk away from your destination, even though your arrival time will likely be the same. Even the researchers behind this study apparently did not consider this as an option, likely because it does not make sense.

Also, I think there may be another psychological factor at play here. When you walk backward you are increasing the amount of time you spend on the bus. If you do not like commuting then extra time on the bus (no matter how comfortable) seems an unpleasant option. This may also explain jessica's question about why people cram onto a crowded bus or train when there is an empty one right behind. There is a gap between the additional length of your commute and your perception of that length.

I am always amazed that people seem eager to trade two extra minutes on a packed train for two additional minutes at their workplace. Do these people love their jobs that much? I for one prefer commuting to working, so you will see me waiting for the second train every time.



I always go backward at least one stop. I still get the exercise, and I can see the bus coming in case I need to run! Plus, I normally get a seat, whereas when I used to walk forward, all I got was a sore arm (from holding onto the overhead bar for 30 minutes!).

molly w.

Mike says: "The ONLY TIME you would ordinarily improve your timetable by walking is if you're planning to walk the entire distance."

True -- but I would venture this is very often the case. In my own life, I work a 15-20 minute walk from a train station. The bus saves me 5-10 minutes and some exertion, but if I miss a bus (and can't spot the next bus a few blocks away), I will almost certainly beat the next bus to the train station on foot.

In these circumstances I find my decision to wait or walk hinges almost entirely on the *weather*: If it's hot enough to work up a sweat walking, I'll wait; if it's cold enough that standing at the bus stop is uncomfortable, I'll walk.


I'm really surprised that people don't do all three at different times for different reasons.

I go back when it's a rush enough to help.

I stay at the stop most of the time

I go on ahead sometimes to sneak an errand in during my wait

I might do any of the above if there's someone at one of the stops I want to talk to.

BC Planning Blog

Funny, Im sure everyone has philosophized whether it is smarter to wait or walk standing on a cold bus stop in the middle of winter.


So this a completely subjective analysis since you're still getting on the SAME bus (unless the bus blows by you while you're walking). The only way you'll be walking another stop is out of comfort. Time saving by this method isn't really something gained by this.

I take the express bus to and from NYC every weekday. I've found this discussion is usually pointless. The only options I weigh slightly concerning this matter is if the express bus + traffic is faster than the local bus + subway (where I would avoid traffic).. they both get me to work late but I save $3 by taking the local+subway. Of course I could get up earlier and catch an earlier bus to avoid rush hour but sleeping in wins in that battle.

Bruce Johnson

If you live in San Francisco like myself, there is a good chance the bus may never come. I often do what I call the 'bus walk' and get to my destination before the bus does.


I'm a student at the University of Iowa and I walk backwards sometimes. Most of our bus stops do not have shelters, so if the weather is really terrible (as it often is), I walk backwards to shorten the time that I'm exposed. It's a risky strategy though, because if that bus passes you while you're heading towards it you're out of luck AND you wasted energy walking.

Tom Kelly

A much more interesting bus problem occurred most days after school at the large Catholic boys high school I attended in the 70's.

The choice was whether to pay the fare or climb in the back window. There were usually 30-50 freshman and sophomore boys (too young to drive) getting on the empty bus around the corner from the school each weekday at about 3:15 (this stop was the end of the line).

The first fare paying kid knew it was his "duty" to proceed directly to the back of the bus and open the curb side window. Then the fare jumping kids would start piling in- as the bus driver could not see them because he was busy monitoring the fare payers and both his inside and outside mirrors were obscured by those other boys.

The problem came in when the back seat area became overcrowded and the boys there didn't necessarily want to let another boy in. More than a few times the bus pulled away with a 13 year old hanging out that back window for dear life.

After several months of this going on, one day the bus was no longer empty when it arrived, as there was a police office sitting in the back seat when we got on.



I also live in San Francisco, and I seem to be one of the only people here who doesn't mind walking "backward" to catch the bus. At the same time, I sometimes use NextBus.com to check on the status of my bus; if there are two coming, I'll most likely take the 2nd. I'd rather be less stressed than crammed in like cattle for 30-45 min.!